Intellectual Property: A Hot-Button Issue

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Intellectual Property: A Hot-Button Issue

Intellectual Property: A Hot-Button Issue

This call for further discussion is brought to you by ConCept G.

Ignorance has many virtues, amongst them the fact that it tends to produce a feeling of self-confidence which allows one to contemplate large projects with a sense of complete equanimity.”* Globally, intellectual property (IP) violations remain a global concern and this is for good reason. For design houses and in the context of the exhibition and events industry, concept ideas are expensive to produce and the fixed costs of producing knowledge are high. There is the cost of acquiring the extensive and sophisticated hardware and software and the maintenance thereof, the designer’s salary and cost to company, and incentive and performance related bonuses and commissions, where applicable.

It is crucial for designers who are employed in any organisation, to understand the parameters around the IP, copyright and the related company’s property. The company would have a defined policy on intellectual property that protects the company, concepts and or programme design and development created by an individual whilst under the employ of said company, which all fall under the property and ownership of the company and not the individual. Individuals who wrestle with this concept should perhaps consider taking the risk like other business owners have and go out on their own, without stealing the IP from their employer, of course.

The bottom line is that as an employee, any design or concept or programme that is produced by said employee does not belong to that employee because the employee is employed to design and produce the designs, concepts and programmes and is remunerated accordingly. If they choose to resign from said employ, they are not allowed to take any IP with them. An interesting debate lies in the case of a consultant or agency – the consultant or agency would brief an exhibition design company or design house on the end client’s requirements. To whom does the design belong? We have already touched on the hot topic of ‘should exhibition companies charge for designs?’ In the case of the agency or consultant in the exhibition and event industry, currently we do not charge our clients for design work – therefore an agency or consultant is not actually Paying for the design, only the services to realise the exhibition stand, which lends itself to the fact that said design is the property of the exhibition company. It is less about the product and more about the creation of the product. If the creation of the product is paid for by a client, to whom does the design belong?

Many members are often asked to quote on designs which are clearly marked as the property of another company and would refuse to do so. It is unquestionably unethical to do so and this very point is in the EXSA Suppliers Forum Code of Conduct Guidelines.

Intellectual property (IP) definition: ‘’is a term referring to creations of the intellect for which a monopoly is assigned to designated owners by law. Some common types of intellectual property rights (IPR) are trademarks, copyright, patents, industrial design rights, and in some countries, trade secrets: all these cover music, literature, and other artistic works; discoveries and inventions; words, phrases, symbols, and designs. While intellectual property law has evolved over centuries, it was not until the 19th century that the term intellectual property began to be used, and not until the late 20th century that it became commonplace in the majority of the world.’’

What is Intellectual Property? It is “intangible property right’’ it describes the ideas, concepts, inventions, technologies, artworks, music and literature, that are intangible when first created, but become valuable in tangible form as products. Suffice it to say that IP is ‘’the commercial application of imaginative thought to solving technical or artistic challenge. It is not the product itself, but the special idea behind it, the way the idea is expressed, and the distinctive way it is named and described.’’* Why “property”? the term applies only to inventions, works and names for which a person or group of persons claim ownership. Ownership is important because ‘’experience on a specific stand design for a client whilst in the employ of a stand-designing company, then that design remains the property of the company who employs them. Many members are often asked to quote has shown that potential economic gain provides a powerful incentive to innovate.”

The Stockholm Convention, which established the World Intellectual Property Organization, states that intellectual property includes the rights relating to:

  • literary, artistic and scientific works
  • performances of performing artists, phonograms, and broadcasts
  • inventions in all fields of human endeavour, scientific discoveries
  • industrial designs
  • trademarks, service marks, and commercial names and designations
  • protection against unfair competition
  • all other rights resulting from intellectual activity in the industrial scientific, literary or artistic fields.

 

Sue Gannon of EXSA says, “Intellectual Property (IP) and Copyright is a well debated issue within the exhibition industry. Louis Nel, the Association’s legal voice, held a workshop for our members on this very subject. At the time, he urged all members to put the Copyright sign “©” on everything. He also wrote a paragraph on this subject and urged members to use it. It is our understanding that if a designer is working on a specific stand design for a client whilst in the employ of a stand-designing company, then that design remains the property of the company who employs them. Many members are often asked to quote on designs that are clearly marked as the property of another company and would refuse to do so. It is unquestionably unethical to do so and this very point is in the EXSA Suppliers Forum Code of Conduct Guidelines.”

Conrad Kullman of the 3D Group says,
“The 3D Group copywriters all design to the 3D Group. Copyright or IP is more important to our industry than most, due to the fact that all our designs are unique and one-of-a-kind. When it comes to sales people leaving and approaching our clients, we have trade restraints in place to avoid this. This doesn’t always work out and it’s mostly the lawyers that make the money in this case. We do not quote on designs that are sent to us unless they are international clients. In this case, we revert back to the client and explain our stance on this situation and their unethical behaviour.”

Many members are often asked to quote on designs which are clearly marked as the property of another company and would refuse to do so. It is unquestionably unethical to do so and this very point is in the EXSA Suppliers Forum Code of Conduct Guidelines.

Liam Beattie of Hott3D says, “We are regularly sent design work done by other agencies for which permission to do so has not been attained. It is inherently dishonest of the sender and speaks volumes about that individual or company’s moral fibre or lack thereof. As such, we outright refuse to work with them. In effect we blacklist them for all future inquiries and also do our best to trace the source of the designs to advise them of what is going on. Unfortunately we also experience our design work being sent out for “cheaper” quotes. What the client in those instances fails to realise, is that having facilities to push out 3D designs and renders is very expensive and that cost to company is incorporated into project costs. Regrettably the days of paid pitches are long gone. If pitches were paid for (and they should be) this kind of practice would occur far less”.

Doug Rix of DK Design feels that designers are continually inspired by the intake of visual stimulation all around them each day, but that there is a fine line between incorporating elements of other people’s design ideas into one’s own design concept, versus copying designs outright. “We include “This is the Property of DK DESIGN” at the base of every presentation drawing. And, if our design is presented with another company’s design “to quote on”, we immediately try and advise all parties of the infringement”, says Doug.

The impression is often created that IP enforcement is about a conflict between the strong and the weak, the rich and the poor. It is seldom the case: ‘’It is not a moral tussle between the good and the bad, the small and the large. It is a fight over profits by competitors.’’*

When you realise that the first patent law was enacted in 1623, intellectual property is not an ancient principle. As the debate over the future of intellectual property unfolds, it will be more important than ever for companies and their employees to have good and sound information concerning the nature of IP. “My words and my ideas are my property, and I’ll keep and protect them as surely as I do my stable of unicorns.” – Jarod Kintz.

  1. Charles van Onselen New Babylon
    New Nineveh (preface to the first
    edition) 2001.
  2.  Mr. Justice Harms, Supreme Court of Appeal, South Africa
  3. BoehringerIngelheim KG v Swingward Ltd [2000] FSR 529 par 9.

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